Campus Life

Texas A&M University Art Galleries Opens ‘Art of the Aloha Shirt’

The Stark Galleries opens an exhibition of drawings, fabric swatches and shirts celebrating the art of the Aloha shirt.
By Molly Painter, Texas A&M University Art Galleries February 4, 2020

John “Keoni” Meigs, painting for Waikiki Reef, c. late 1940s; gouache on paper, 24 x 30 inches; © Keoni Collection.
John “Keoni” Meigs, painting for Waikiki Reef, c. late 1940s; gouache on paper, 24 x 30 inches.

Keoni Collection


An exhibit exploring the history, artistry, and production of Hawaii’s enduring fashion statement, the Aloha shirt, is open at Texas A&M University’s J. Wayne Stark Galleries until April 19.

This exhibitionArt of the Aloha Shirt: Keoni of Hawaii, 1938-51 – is comprised of 60 objects, including original textile artwork, production sketches and swatches, advertisements, and vintage shirts, and tells the story of an early innovator, John “Keoni” Meigs.

Although many claim authorship, the exact origin of the Aloha shirt remains uncertain. The patterns of Polynesian tapa cloth, the colorful and bold floral designs of Tahitian pareau, and the sheer Japanese fabric used for making kimonos are often cited as some of the early stylistic influences of the shirt.

John “Keoni” Meigs (“Keoni” is Hawaiian for John) was a self-taught painter whose talent became known to the early shirt manufacturers in Honolulu. In 1938, he created his first designs, concentrating on Polynesian tapa patterns inspired by the originals he had studied at the local Bishop Museum.

Keoni is credited with creating as many as 300 Aloha shirt designs. In Meigs’ words, “In a sense, Aloha shirts put Hawaii on the map. The first thing people did when they arrived was make a beeline for a department store to buy one. A lot of kooky things were designed, but I always tried to be a purist when it came to using motifs from Hawaiian sources.”

Unknown photographer, Dressed in an aloha shirt and lava-lava, Keoni works on a textile design, c. 1940s; digital image; © Keoni Collection.
Dressed in an aloha shirt and lava-lava, John “Keoni” Meigs works on a textile design, c. 1940s.

Keoni Collection.

Art of the Aloha Shirt is curated by Dale Hope, a Hawaiian native and second generation veteran of the garment industry who authored the definitive book on the subject, The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands, in 2000. Much of the work draws from the collection of Dan Eskenazi, which offers viewers the opportunity to see Aloha shirts from a designer’s perspective, as well as vintage examples of the finished product. Art of the Aloha Shirt is organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.

Students and community members are invited to attend an Aloha Shirt Luau on Thursday, March 19 in the Stark Galleries from 4:30-6 p.m. with refreshments, games, music, and giveaways. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt is encouraged but not required to attend.

The Stark Galleries, located in the Memorial Student Center, is open Tues-Fri, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat-Sun, noon-6 p.m.; and is closed Mondays and university holidays. Admission is free.

About ExhibitsUSA

This exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than twenty-five exhibitions on tour to over 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. These exhibitions create access to an array of arts and humanities experiences, nurture the understanding of diverse cultures and art forms, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. For more about ExhibitsUSA, email or visit

About Mid-America Arts Alliance

Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) strengthens and supports artists, cultural organizations, and communities throughout our region and beyond. We achieve this primarily through our national traveling exhibition programs, innovative leadership development, and strategic grant making. We are especially committed to enriching the cultural life of historically underserved communities by providing high quality, meaningful, and accessible arts and culture programs and services. We believe in more art for more people. Additional information about M-AAA is available at

About The Texas A&M University Art Galleries

The Texas A&M University Art Galleries, home to the J. Wayne Stark Galleries and the Forsyth Galleries, provides a variety of opportunities to experience art exhibitions, events, hands-on art activities, and lectures on the Texas A&M University campus. Admission is always free.

Media contact: Molly Painter, University Art Galleries, Division of Student Affairs, 979-845-8501,

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